This is the first installment of The Book Report, a new occasional feature I’ll be bringing to Backup Brain in 2008. Consider this to be jumping the gun a bit. It will consist of short blurbs about books I’ve recently read. I figure that if I enjoy a book, some of you will, too. For pleasure, I tend to read mostly science fiction, so most of my blurbs will focus on SF novels. Some books will be new, some not so much.
Here are my thoughts about a few of the books I’ve read over the past few months, in no particular order.
Radio Freefall, by Matthew Jarpe
This is Jarpe’s first novel, and it’s a big winner. It combines rock and roll, artificial intelligence, a megalomaniac with more than a passing resemblance to Bill Gates, a computer virus named the Digital Carnivore, and equally hungry corporations. The main character is an aging musician named (among other things) Aqualung. It’s lots of fun. Go get it.
Shelter, by Susan Palwick
Set in near-future San Francisco, this book introduces us to a world devastated by climate change and a pandemic, the CV virus. One of the first victims, Preston Walford, is a rich industrialist who uploads his mind onto the Net, becoming a virtual being. The book focuses on his daughter, Meredith, who survives CV, but at a cost that severely affects her, her family, and many others. Like Radio Freefall, the concept of legal rights for AI’s is a big theme. Perhaps too long at 576 pages, this book is nevertheless quite emotionally affecting.
Cauldron, by Jack McDivitt
McDivitt has done six novels in his Academy series, and this is probably (hopefully?) his last. Sad to say, he’s not gone out with a bang. The heroine of the previous novels, Priscilla Hutchins, gets short shrift from the author, who seems more interested in cranking the Plot Handle than in providing us with characters or motivations we can care about. The MacGuffin in this book is a vastly faster hyperdrive that opens up much greater distances to the characters. This allows them to finally visit the source of the mysterious omega clouds, which McDivitt has been building up as fearsome galactic Doomsday machines for the past five novels. Turns out that the reason they exist is really kind of boring.
Ironically, the author said on his Web site quite some time ago:
To pursue it farther, to hunt down the source, to research the nuts and bolts of the clouds, would very quickly take the luster off the rose. Some things are best left to the reader’s very able imagination.
He should have taken his own advice. If you’ve read all the previous Hutch novels, you’ll probably want to read this just for completeness. But borrow it from the library; it’s not worth your hard-earned cash.